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How to transform your classroom into a stimulating hub of learning with some healthy variety and steady rules for children with and without ADHD.

A child who was diagnosed with ADHD in a classroom at school
A child who was diagnosed with ADHD in a classroom at school

Peek inside my classroom at certain times of the day, and you might think that I have stepped out for a walk. Kids are sprawled on the floor, and a Beach Boys song fills the air. But what appears helter-skelter is, in fact, organized activity, and the kids are hard at work.

Of the 16 students in my class, six have ADHD or a learning disorder. To keep them engaged and productive, I alternate high- and low-activity lessons, offer choices, and punctuate the day with opportunities to move around. Most of the strategies are aimed at children with ADHD, to help them stay focused and organized. But the other students also benefit, and a lot of learning goes on.

Alternating Currents

As the day begins, my students head outside for 20 minutes of T’ai Chi. Returning to the classroom, they’re ready to focus, and we immerse ourselves in math. The next period is physical education-another chance to expend energy — and then it’s on to literature. The variety and pacing not only keep the day interesting, but also satisfy the need for novelty in kids with ADHD.

I also allow movement during lessons. Two boys work at raised tables at the back of the room — they don’t sit down all morning. Their attention spans, handwriting, and productivity have improved because they’re able to keep their bodies in motion without distracting others. During literature, students can sit on pillows, chairs, or the floor. One boy sits in a rocker and has improved his reading fluency by reading to the rhythm of the chair.

I often use music to regulate the energy in the room. If I want quiet, reflective students, soft classical music works best. For group projects, I put on lively tunes.

A wise educator once said, “It’s better to be the guide on the side than the sage on the stage.” My lessons emphasize student involvement and allow the kids to uncover knowledge for themselves. For our unit on China, the students are researching Chinese geography, designing blueprints, and working in groups to build relief maps. This approach encourages independence and engages problem-solving skills in the kids with ADHD.

[Just for Teachers: 5 Tips to Stay Organized]

Order in the Class!

Children with ADHD thrive on variety, but take comfort in routine. We go over the day’s schedule as I write it on the blackboard, so students know what to expect.

I color-code subject materials to help with organization. Math books and folders are green, for instance, so they’re easy to find when that lesson begins. At the end of the day, the kids check their assignment books to see what they need and pack their bags together.

Take-Away Tips

Many of my strategies can be adapted. Try these:

  • Ask the teacher to check your child’s homework book to be sure he has copied the assignments word for word.
  • Schedule an activity to break up homework, and alternate reading, writing, and hands-on tasks.
  • Consider an early-morning run or a bike ride to school to help your child burn off excess energy.